5E Shooting into a melee. Disadvantage or not?

It depends on the grit level of the game I'm running. In general I'd go with half cover and no chance of hitting an ally. In a grittier game I might have them hit the ally if they missed by the cover mod. In a pulpy swashbucking game I might not even bother with cover.


In games I run we play that anyone in melee is harder to hit and gets +2 to AC like half cover even if the person isn’t between the missile firer and the target. Additionally we play that if the person is between the target and the missile firer and if you miss your target by the cover difference you hit the cover creature (if this roll is enough to penetrate their AC.


We just say if you roll a 1 you hit your ally. If there are two allies next to the target, then a 1 or a 2 will hit an ally etc.
But don't roll a nat-1.
If I had these rules in 5e I would have a bunch of halflings. I had some of this in older editions, but not in 5e

I tend to only impose disadvantage if you have someone attacking you and you try to shoot while threatened and for long range. I can see now thinking about it that since these other two exampled impose it, one can also impose it while shooting into melee on others. I do not have a bunch of archers in my games so I most likely will not change things.


I generally give half cover even if the ally doesn't directly block the line of fire. A melee would be more chaotic than can represented by static miniatures on a grid where everything stays neatly centered in its own 5' square. The possibility that someone is going to dodge or lunge at the wrong time is going to make the shot harder.

Most campaigns I have also used the "natural 1" rule. In my experience it adds a bit more excitement to the roll (for both the shooter and ally) and when the occasional "friendly fire" incident happens it tends to seen more as comic relief than a genuine annoyance. (Disclaimer: your players may vary)

Ranged combat is frankly a bit OP in 5E so I don't see an issue with dialing back its effectiveness somewhat.


I ask anyone to try firing a bow and arrow into a moving crowd and avoid hitting anyone else but your chosen target. Regardless, RAW, you're cool. In 3rd edition, you had to burn a Feat to be cool or otherwise suffer -4 to the attack. Since 5E did away with Feat bloat, this is gone as well. Otherwise, I'd expect we'd see Disadvantage imposed.

Others have mentioned soft "cover" (+2 AC) and there's an optional rule (DMG p272) that if your attack missed because of the creature that provided cover, you hit that creature (but only do damage if you would've hit that AC). Because of the absurd super-low chance involved, it's largely a pointless optional rule. In summary, it probably doesn't make sense, but there's not a great alternative if you want anyone to play a ranged character.


Bacon Bits

No disadvantage, but cover applies like others have said.

Archery style's +2 to hit was specifically intended to counteract the +2 AC given by half cover. That's exactly why it's the only fixed flat attack bonus in the game.
I give the player two choices: disadvantage on the attack roll or a chance to strike their ally. If the second option is chosen, a even attack roll strikes the desired target, and an off rolls hits the ally. At least you can't crit your friend.


Limit Break Dancing
If I had these rules in 5e I would have a bunch of halflings. I had some of this in older editions, but not in 5e
If this house-rule is what pushes you into the "I hate that so I'm going to be a hafling" camp, go for it. Halfling archers are fun to play.